As I write this piece, I sit at my desk enveloped in my warm winter blanket, a warm cup of hot lemon sits invitingly next to my trusty laptop. A gentle dusting of frost glistens on my window pane as I look out over Osaka bay towards what appears to be an even more icy cold sea than usual.
Yes folks, winter is here with a vengeance. Unlike Scotland, or indeed most of Europe and America, where I have always found December/January to be the coldest time, in Osaka it seems that February is when the cold is at its harshest.
As time goes on, I swear these winters get longer. It’ll probably be the end of March before we start getting anything resembling warm weather again.
So, in these cold times, what better way to beat the cold than with a trip to the cinema?
With this in mind, here are some of the best new movies coming to Japan over the next couple of months. In typical Hollywood style, as usual the number of sequels seems to greatly outnumber the amount of original releases. Nonetheless, there’s plenty to be excited about at Japan’s many cinemas this coming spring.
Here is my top five films to look forward to this spring.
1) Spotlight, starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber.
Cinema audiences may be more familiar with Keaton and Ruffalo’s superhero exploits, as Batman and The Incredible Hulk respectively. However, Spotlight provides these two fine actors with an opportunity to showcase their dramatic talents, in this hard-hitting drama, based on a true story. Spotlight tells the story of a brave, dedicated group of journalists, who faced down all kinds of threats, intimidation and secrecy to expose the huge extent of child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. It was a conspiracy that went all the way to the very highest levels of the Vatican, and sadly even today has not yet been fully resolved. An early favourite to take the best picture award at this year’s Academy Awards, Spotlight is required viewing both for lovers of high drama and insightful journalism. Spotlight comes to theatres across Japan on April 15th.
2) Captain America: Civil War, starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jnr, Sebastian Stan
Whilst most fans of the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe point to Iron Man or Thor as their franchise favourites, I have to admit, to date, that Captain America: The First Avenger remains my favourite movie in this ever expanding saga. It’s 2014 sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, fleshed out the characters and developed the story narrative even further, as political intrigue became as much of a concern as the breakneck action and explosions on-screen.
The political angle is expected to be ramped up further in Civil War, as Captain America’s love of liberty and freedom places him in direct conflict with his Avengers comrade Iron Man, over the governments forced registration and regulation of all “superhumans”.
Central to this conflict is the ongoing story of Captain America’s childhood friend Bucky Barnes, who after being rebuilt into the primary antagonist, the Winter Soldier in Captain America’s previous advernture, has now, once again returned to the forces of good.
So who will Captain America ultimately choose to side with, his modern day friend and ally, Iron Man, or his wartime buddy The Winter Solider? And just how will Spider-Man fit into all of this?
We will find out when Captain America: Civil War opens on April 29th.
3) Mr Holmes, starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney
Everyone has their bucket list of things they want to do and people they want to meet before they leave this world. I have to say that pretty close to the top of my list is a night of “highjinks” with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. However, given that these two men remain superstars at the very top of the UK’s acting talents, the chances of me sitting down for a glass of Barolo with Captain Picard and Gandalf anytime soon is pretty slim.
With this in mind, at least I can console myself by continuing to enjoy their movies. For this, his latest offering, McKellen takes on the role of one of my favourite characters in modern literature, Sherlock Holmes.
Whilst I am a big fan of the way Holmes is portrayed in the modern day by Benedict Cumberbatch in the excellent BBC drama serial Sherlock, Mr Holmes promises a more classical take on the character.
Set in the early half of the 20th century, Mr Holmes sees out favourite super-sleuth approaching 100 years old and eager to spend his final years in peaceful retirement. That is until an intriguing new case peaks his curiosity, prompting him to don that famous deerstalker one final time. Mr Holmes is released in Japan on March 18th.
4) The Hateful Eight, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen.
I know it’s the trendy, hipster thing to say, and ordinarily I would seek to distance myself from such absurd conformity, but I am an unashamed lover of the works of Quentin Tarantino. Whilst Pulp Fiction remains my all-time favourite, with Kill Bill Vol. 1 a close second, each of his films brings something new to the table in terms of defining how we view modern cinema. Having briefly flirted with the idea of the classical western through some of the themes he explored in 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 2, and dabbled in the same time period with Django Unchained, Tarantino’s latest project, The Hateful Eight marks his first attempt at a full-on western in the classical Sergio Leone style. Again Tarantino has gone back to some of his most trusted actors who made his previous movies so memorable. So we can once again see the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen delivering scene-stealing one-liners accented by Tarantino’s trademark stylish editing and gratuitous violence. The Hateful Eight opens in Japan on February 27th.
5) Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg
Yes, the time is almost upon us, and the movie almost 40 years in the making is finally here. Ever since the late, great Christopher Reeve first portrayed the “Last Son of Krypton” in 1978 and Michael Keaton first donned the cowl and cape of “the Dark Knight” back in 1989, fans across the world have been crying out for a movie where these often fractious allies would finally come together on screen.
These days, its Henry Cavill who returns as Superman, after a sterling debut in 2013’s Man of Steel, with Hollywood action veteran Ben Affleck making his first appearance as the latest incarnation of Batman. The movie also promises us our first glimpses ever on the big screen of DC Comics staples Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, and Aquaman, played by Game of Thrones Alumni Jason Momoa.
Warner Brothers Studios are hoping this movie will be the springboard they need to establish a cinematic universe to rival Marvel, so there is a lot riding on this. Hopes are high, and whatever happens, this movie is unlikely to be dull.